He was sitting in an acting class when his future suddenly came into focus.
Asked to expound on life goals and ambitions, Rob Dornaus didn’t hesitate — he shared with fellow students his dream of establishing his own theater company.
“I came to that realization at that very moment,” he recalls. “I guess that had been inside of me for some time and I hadn’t given it much thought.”
That goal is now a reality with the launch of a new wine country stage group, Sightglass Theater Company, which will make its stage debut next week with Jason Robert Brown’s musical, “The Last Five Years,” an emotionally intimate depiction of a love affair, from its sweet beginnings to its bitter end.
The two-character musical opened Off-Broadway in March of 2002 and that year won the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Music and Lyrics, as well as receiving Drama Desk nominations for Outstanding Musical, Outstanding Actor, Outstanding Actress, Outstanding Orchestrations and Outstanding Set Design. It also received the Lucille Lortel Award nomination for Outstanding Musical and Outstanding Actor, and the Outer Critics Circle Award nomination for Outstanding Off-Broadway Musical.
Composer/lyricist/playwright Brown has won Tony Awards for his work on a pair of Broadway shows, “Parade” and “The Bridges of Madison County.” He also adapted the film “Honeymoon in Vegas” for the Broadway stage.
Co-founders of Sightglass Theater Company, Dornaus and his brother-in-law, Keynan Burnett, are fans of Brown’s work, especially “The Last Five Years.”
“I chose a show I knew, that I feel confident about,” Dornaus said on a recent night off from rehearsal. “We’re passionate about the material,” he added, noting that Burnett is directing the production in which he stars with Sonoma native Aubrey Mae Davis.
“(Brown’s) music is challenging and sophisticated … (the show is) a good example of the type of works we intend to produce.”
Sightglass Theater Company is being launched by area natives intent on “creating a culture of theater in Napa,” Dornaus said.
“Most of our company were born and raised in wine country,” Burnett notes. “After each following paths in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and San Francisco, we have found a home in Napa once again. This is the place we live and love, the place we marry and raise our children.”
Dornaus points to the fact that Napa Valley is renowned for its wines, food and music, and now he and his associates would like to help establish the area as a place for theater as well.
He is cast in the role of Jamie, “a successful playwright on the verge of greatness, struggling to find balance in his marriage and career.”
A good friend and former classmate, Aubrey Mae Davis — who returned after working for eight years in New York to undertake this role — plays Cathy, a struggling actress “fighting her inner doubts and fears as she too tries to find balanced and connection.”
A Vintage High School graduate with the Class of 2000, Dornaus won a vocal competition while in high school, which set him on a path of study. He enrolled at Roosevelt University in Chicago for classical voice and then the Acting Conservatory at the State University of New York at Purchase. His graduate studies were completed at Meisner Studio in San Francisco before he returned to live and work in Napa.
Dornaus is quite pleased that William and Leticia Jarvis have offered Napa’s Jarvis Conservatory for Sightglass Theater Company’s staging of “The Last Five Years.”
‘It’s so nice of them as I have a long-standing relationship with Jarvis Conservatory,” he continued. “I first sang there when I was 16 — when they hosted the Saturday Night at the Opera program. I was also in one of the zarzuelas that were produced at the conservatory.”
Tickets and fundraising
Sightglass Theater Company is currently raising funds for this production and future endeavors.
For example, for those who’d like to attend the opening night gala — with an invite to a wine and hors d’oeuvres reception an hour prior to the 7 p.m. performance along with a talk by the director — the opportunity to purchase a $75 ticket is offered on the company’s website. In addition, contributions can be made by logging onto sightglasstheater.org/support.
Performances are scheduled at 7 p.m. on Aug. 13, 14 and 15. Tickets are $30 and can be purchased at jarvisconservatory.com/sightglasstheater. Jarvis Conservatory is located at 1711 Main St., Napa.
Following each performance, the audience is invited to stick around to talk and interact with the cast and production crew.
“We intend to move, inspire, provoke and hopefully spark meaningful dialogue,” Dornaus added. “After each performance, we host a coffee and tea reception where we encourage everyone to discuss how the production has impacted them. We look forward to hearing how theater enriches our audiences’ lives.”